Breckenridge museums expand winter hours
December 23, 2005
BRECKENRIDGE – These days, Breckenridge is best known for the white gold covering local slopes. But the historic Victorian gold mining town’s rich cultural heritage dates back to the late 1800s, when miners swarmed the area in search of gold nuggets. Several museums in town pay homage to that history, including a facility dedicated to telling the story of Barney Ford, an escaped slave who became a prominent entrepreneur and black civil rights pioneer in Colorado. In 1880, Ford became the first black businessman in Breckenridge when he opened Ford’s Restaurant and Chop House. Ford was instrumental in securing voting rights for African-Americans in Colorado and prospered financially from his investment in the Oro Mill and Mine site in French Gulch.
The Barney Ford House Museum, at 111 E. Washington Street, has expanded its schedule for museum visitors this winter, thanks to funding from the town of Breckenridge, and will be open six days per week through April 6. The museum is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday Friday, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. The museum is open Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Admission is free.Another Colorado pioneer is honored at the Edwin Carter Museum, 111 N. Ridge Street. Carter arrived in Breckenridge as a gold prospector in 1868. But as he witnessed the destruction that the mining boom wreaked on local wildlife, he turned his attention to the area’s natural history, amassing an outstanding collection of more than 3,300 specimens from the local forests and mountains. Carter’s collection provided the foundation for the Colorado Museum of Natural History, which is now known as the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.Carter lived and worked in the Ridge Street cabin for more than 25 years. He was born in Oneida, N.Y. and moved west in 1828, first to Iowa and then to Pike’s Peak during the 1859 gold rush. He settled in Summit County in 1860, when, according to the Summit Historical Society, he noticed changes in the wild animals living around the booming mining camps.
According to the historical society’s web site, deer and elk were growing mismatched antlers. Rocky Mountain bison stopped calving, and mutations such as two-headed calves appeared. Carter speculated that chemicals such as cyanide used in extracting precious metals from ore were affecting the wildlife through water, air, and soil. He traveled to Black Hawk, near Central City, to learn taxidermy and began to collect examples of the abnormalities in several species, turning his interest into his life’s work. Among other things, he collected more than 360 ptarmigan to document the dramatic plumage change in those birds. The historical society’s web page states that, although Carter’s collection and preservation methods may not be up to today’s scientific standards, he helped to educate people about the negative effects of the mining era on local wildlife and secured specimens for many future generations to study. Carter never charged admission to his museum, which attracted scientists from around the world. Despite the serious nature of his work, Carter apparently never lost his sense of humor, illustrated by photos showing one of his bear specimens holding a wine bottle in one forepaw and a wineglass in the other!
The Carter Museum is open every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. through April 1. Admission is free.